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The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
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The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  566 ratings  ·  97 reviews
Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Arya ...more
Hardcover, 553 pages
Published December 9th 2007 by Princeton University Press (first published November 19th 2007)
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One of the things I did in grad school was to become a Proto-Indo-European otaku, a long, lonely voyage into the dark and uncharted seas of PIE myth and mythology. I did this because I was amused by facts such as the following: (a) the English word "sweat" and its Sanskrit cognate, "svet" are practically homophonic; (b) Erin, the ancient name for Ireland, is a cognate of the Persian word Iran and of the Vedic Sanskrit word Aryan (the 'race' that inspired Hitler). Why should cultures at such dist ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Admittedly it does get bogged down describing archeological sites but you can skim through those sections without missing anything.

Anthony combines linguistics and archeology to localize the origins of the Indo-European language family and plot its spread across Eurasia, similar to Spencer Wells' efforts to combine genetics and archeology to trace the spread of humans from Africa.

The author marshalls the evidence to argue that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) eme
Jan 20, 2009 Patricia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: linguists, Asian steppe and art historians, archaeologists
Educated in an era when the Tigris-Euphrates "Fertile Crescent") region was credited with the invention of the chariot, this work's most fascinating contribution to our understanding of world history to me was the identification of the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the origin of horse-riding about 4200-4000 BCE, and the invention of wheeled vehicles around 3300 BCE. Chariots used in warfare utterly changed world history, so dating their appearance is important because it helps us understand so many ...more
I'd like to start my review of the book with part of the last sentence of the last chapter of the book:" the invisible and fleeting sound of our speech we preserve for a future generation of linguists many details of our present world." (p.466)

The main ideas of this book are a reconstruction of a dead language and how that is possible (in this case Proto-Indo-European) and dating it. The reconstruction of the lives and migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans including their possible homeland
Anthony has rendered a great service in making available information on the archaeology of the Bronze Age cultures of the Pontic-Caspian and Eurasian steppes contained in Russian language publications. The book features excellent notes and bibliography and extensive maps and illustrations. Many of the illustrations, however, are adapted from other publications and lack sufficient accompanying information to be useful for anything other than giving a general impression of the artifacts included i ...more
Indo-European languages are now some of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The Indo-European languages and the cultures and traditions associated with them which have influenced most of the world have come from a shared source known as proto-Indo-European language.

The author here makes the case for the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the homeland of proto-Indo-European language based on linguistic and archaeological evidences.

The first part was very fascinating. It deals with the linguist
Barnaby Thieme
This rather technical overview of recent archaeological and linguistic scholarship sheds important light on the mysterious Proto-Indo-European-speaking Bronze Age cultures and offers a tentative picture of their development and spread across the Steppes until they impacted an area stretching between Western China and Atlantic Ocean. The author pay special attention to evidence for the domestication of the horse around 4000 BCE and draw attention to his original work analyzing bit wear patterns o ...more
Jan 21, 2010 Elaine rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: intelligent people with good thinking skills
This is a fascinating study. He ties up what we know about the original Indo-European language with actual archaeological studies in the Steppes of Russia, probably their ancestral home. The Indo-European language family is the largest in the world, and its daughter languages include most of the European languages, many Indian languages, Iranian and languages in Afghanistan.

I will admit I am a linguist and know how to reconstruct dead languages. In order to do so, you have to understand the sci
Bryn Hammond
I haven't felt equipped to review this -- at least until I get to that 2nd reading. A shame not to say that I thought it fantastic, though. A couple of notes:

I am a non-linguist (severely, I think) and can find language discussion in Indo-European books scary. Here I didn't, and besides there isn't over-much of it.

Its section on frontiers -- frontier theory and how frontiers work -- was enlightening for me, even outside the scope of this book. I think I met Frontier Studies here.

If I was bored
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
The first several chapters, and the last several chapters are both excellent. The middle bogs down a bit. I'm interested in archaeology, but my eyes were crossing while trying to read some of the middle portion. Very interesting, however.
David E.
Fascinating read, though not what I had expected. The story is really about how the domestication of the horse led to migration across the vast steppes, which had been considered "impassable" or at least very treacherous and time consuming. This in turn led to commercialization of another new skill -- metallurgy esp. the forging of bronze weapons from copper and tin. New research from Russia shows that the late Neolithic period was a time of far greater innovation, commerce and resettlement than ...more
Alison Dellit
A much more compelling story than the history of our "genes", this books traces the evolution of the common cultural and linguistic roots of societies as diverse as the Lithuanians and the Iranians, the Indian sub-continent and the British Isles. Anthony details a breathtaking range of scholarship, from the early linguistic chapters (which too tantalisingly brief) through frontier and migration theorists, to his own archaeology, to pull together his argued position for the development of a cohes ...more
As a graduate student in linguistics, I was initially quite enthused to read a book that bridges the gaping divide between linguistics and archaeology. The first half of this book does a decent job of describing the basics of historical reconstruction of language and understanding linguistic change within cultural landscapes (with a few sociolinguistic over-generalizations and gaffes).

However, Anthony's narrative of Proto-Indo-European's heritage and vast expansion is rather sparse on the lingu
I got pointed towards this book due to its being cited a few times by Karen Armstrong in the The Great Transformation - particularly around Zoroaster being much earlier than I had previously heard and how parts of the Rig Veda are remnants of proto-Indo-European culture. While there was a little of that in the book, the vast majority was on the archaeological evidence that there WAS a proto-Indo-European culture, along with the linguistic evidence. The linguistic evidence I found fascinating, al ...more
Most of the languages of Europe and western Asia can be traced back to a common ancestor spoken several thousand years ago termed Proto-Indo-European. The exact population who spoke this language has long been cause for speculation. While scholars have turned away from the racist fantasies of past centuries -- a tribe of blond, blue-eyed "Aryans" pouring out of the north and subduing lesser peoples -- they nonetheless could only suggest that the homeland of Proto-Indo-European was probably somew ...more
Not being an archaeologist, or a linguist, I can't be totally sure of everything Anthony says, but all in all it's a pretty impressive case for an Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language with original words for wheel, wool, and a temperate homeland somewhere in the Ukraine. It is also readable and technicalities are supressed in the notes. Despite this fact, he does mention alternative theories and is in no way dogmatic about it. There are always going to be exceptions to any theory in this kind of w ...more
Eric Roberts
Oct 16, 2012 Eric Roberts is currently reading it
Very interesting book that attempts to trace back to the homeland of Indo-Europeans via linguistics and archaeology. The sections on how linguists recreate languages that haven't been spoken for thousands of years was fascinating. If you don't have a background in anthropology/archaeology, some of the book can be dry as it really gets deep into some of the archaeological finds and what they mean in the context of the book and defines a lot of the terminology used by anthropologists/archaeologist ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
Book contains Anthony's case for the cradle of Proto-Indo-European language being in the Eastern Steppes, along with the domestication of horses and the invention of the wheel.
It reads a lot like a textbook, with some mind-numbing charts and numbers, but still was fairly interesting and pretty readable. The author admits that he is making a non-proven case and he occaisionally gets carried away with the "if this is so, then that is so. And since we just said that that is so, thus must be true".
I gave this one start because I didn't finish it, I couldn't get through it. Although it has a lot of promise and some great tit bits it is just too entirely academic and unless your a linguist or anthropologist I don't see you reading all of it either. After about the first 80 pages I started skipping around using the section headings scanning for bits that interest me. Having a communications degree I might be more interested in the origin of words and language than most but this book is a lab ...more
Anthony emphasizes that there is still much to be refined and discovered, and while I haven’t read other recent works on this topic to compare it with, the measured tone, wealth of evidence, and strong explanatory power of this book seems to make it a major contribution to a infamously thorny debate. More...
The first part of this book -- connecting historical linguistics and cultural anthropology -- was stupendously awesome. But then all of the linguistics gets stripped away and it's basically just anthro. Which isn't my cup of tea. So I put it down, but in a good way, I think.

Throughout, the writing is exceptionally clear and good at breaking down pretty involved concepts without dumbing them down.
Interesting. However, after scraping my brains from the floor one too many times due to internal explosions, I feel that the Cliff Notes version would have been a better choice for me. No Cliff Notes? Oh well. File it under live and learn.
In short, this is the prequel to Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (to which the author refers in the text and in the title trifecta). Maybe this book is a bit more technical in its archeological descriptions, and less forceful in formulating a central thesis, but I found it just as fascinating.
Why did the Indo-Europeans come to dominate the larger part of the Eurasian land mass (thereby extinguishing at least three pre-existing language groups, of which no trace remains, except in river na
5 stars for the first 150 pages on the history of proto-indo-european. When it gets really detailed into pottery, archaeology, I lost interest and eventually put the book down...
Mar 09, 2008 Janie marked it as to-read
Equine, ingenuity and human communication . . . all in one book!
Carlos Burga
Although I was expecting more linguistics, I was not at all disappointed with this book. Anthony does a marvelous job weaving together linguistics and archeology; a job that he himself recognizes is not easy. Starting with dispelling all the things that a Proto-Indo-European-speaking people was not, i.e., Hitler’s Aryans, he goes on discuss the linguistics that gave us a clue to their existence and then delves magnificently into the archeological evidence for it. On this aspect he is unrelenting ...more
Sarah Gustafson
This book starts so well, with a humdinger of a thesis:

"By the power of linguistics and archaeology combined, we can pinpoint just where and when Indo-European culture began. And then we can trace this bubbling spring down its divergent streams to learn more about each of our Indo-European nations."

(Tocharian, Anatolian? Hittite? Sign me up!)

The author then treats us to lovely, personal writing about this super-cool idea... for about 133 pages.

Unfortunately, he then wanders off into interminab
This book bills itself as an investigation into the Proto-Indo-European homeland -- but it so much more than that! Anthony takes the insights of historical linguistics and the reconstructed vocabulary of Proto-Indo-European and sets out to find an archaeological culture that matches it, and then traces the archaeology leading up to that culture and beyond, to the divisions of Proto-Indo-European into some of its branches and the fecund mercantile and cultural exchange between the Steppe and the ...more
An entertaining read about the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) and its spread and the influences on it from the invention of the wheel, domestication of the horse and other sources around six thousand years ago. Includes considerable interesting discussion of linguistics and archaelogy. The book has a little more information than I needed (as a layman) about some specifics, such as some details of archaeological sites, but much of that type of data is in chart form and may be quickly scanned. ...more
As an archaeologist with a passion for language this is all kinds of right up my alley. It's an argument for the origins of the Proto-Indo-European language family in the steppes around and above the Black Sea. It's pretty dense with archaeological facts, so if you've never read any other archaeological writing, it may be hard going at parts. And some of the evidence is pretty thin, but he recognizes that and supplements it with stronger evidence. But my biggest criticism is a common one for arc ...more
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